Camp GLOW Nekemte 2012
Sometimes in midst of floundering projects and the struggles of everyday rural Ethiopian life, it is easy to loose hope for the country’s future. After one week of leading a girl’s leadership camp, I found new hope, both for the girl’s future and their country’s. Camp GLOW is an international summer camp program, done in almost every Peace Corps country and this year I worked with 10 other volunteers to establish one in Nekemte, in western Ethiopia. The camp addressed its main theme, Leadership, through an interdisciplinary approach and subtopics for the week included environmental responsibility, women’s health, goal setting, HIV and STDs, self esteem and resisting peer pressure. 34 9th grade Ethiopian girls participated in the program. Despite the novelty of camp for counselors and campers alike and the unique challenges that holding it in Ethiopia presented, the story ended better than I could possibly have hoped.
Warning: The below ‘memorable moments’ aren’t all glamorous. They paint a true picture of both sides of camp- the side the campers saw and the logistical side the counselors battled with constantly.
The First Lunch
We had made it to Nekemte- me, my PCV friend Paul, and 13 terrified 9th grade girls. Taking girls away from their families at this age is unheard of in Ethiopian culture and it was easy enough to tell that the girls were uncomfortable. Lunch was a stony, awkward endeavor. The girls sat, silent, in their tall flat backed chairs and barely touched their food. “Oh no”,went my internal dialogue, “This is the beginning of a disaster”.
Team Monkeys on University Scavenger Hunt
Confirmation of the Disaster
Despite the incredible efforts of our hard working Peace Corps Volunteers, the lodging was not ready for the campers and nor was any of the programming we had developed for the first day. By the end of lunch, almost all the campers had arrived and were looking at us for what to do. We led them on a somewhat rag- tag campus tour to fill some time and then we arrived at our class rooms to play some ‘get to know you’ games. The rooms hadn’t been cleaned and desks and clutter and dirt were everywhere. I remember the first laughs I heard at camp started during these get to know you games, but my head was too full of all our logistical issues to pay much attention. I was also starting to feel physically sick.
After games we led girls down to the dining hall. Lines for food meandered over 2 blocks outside of the cafeteria doors. We lined the kids up with the students and it immediately started to rain. No one had umbrellas. I made my way into the cavernous cafeteria in search of a man who’s face I didn’t know, but luckily he found me. Our private dining area was not ready but he did have a smaller serving room for us. I went to alert the counselors and it was chaos- rain on the tin roof so loud you couldn’t hear anything, the students and campers looked just alike and were blending together, and we’d accumulated a crowd of at least 50 curious onlookers. I prayed we had all the girls and led the march to the other dining hall. Head count in the much quieter hall said we all made it. Thank god.
The food was slop. Utter slop. The girls were still to petrified of us foreigners to complain, so they each took a tray of slop and sat down and looked at it. After all the kids were accounted for I set out to find the cafeteria manager, to make sure such a nightmare didn’t happen again. He was sweet and apologetic and showed me where our private tables and chairs would be, starting at breakfast the following morning. It was a relief figure it out, but over the 10 minute conversation I rapidly felt more and more sick. I had to wrap up the conversation early, get his number and run outside to throw up. Nauseous and weak I went back to the dining hall, to help the other counselors. As Camp Director, I felt like I had failed before camp had even begun. I laid in my bed, head reeling, trying to fight back the urge to vomit as the other counselors dealt with the girls.
Repping a Still Family tradition for game night. Spoons- a game that knows no cultural boundaries.
The Team and The Rally
So far, the stories don’t exactly match my gushing intro of love and success for camp. Hit que for the most amazing camp counselor team on the planet- Joanna, Kim, Princess, Rho, Katie, Scott, John, Celeste, Mahi, Mahlet, Meskerem, Dustin, Paul and myself. That first night, exhausted as we all were, we rallied for our first nightly meeting. I was slumped in a chair shivering under a billion sweaters while everyone problem solved and reviewed programming for the following day. Seeing everyone so motivated, so ready to do whatever work needed to be done, I knew the next day would be better. And it was. Mind over matter, a miracle, whatever it was- I woke up the next morning feeling strong with a desire to be a Camp Director worthy of the title.
One of my favorite activities was the fist day University Scavenger Hunt. My Team, the Monkeys, spent an hour running around Wollega University Campus in search of various offices and facilities. Day 1, and the girls were already developing a sense of team identity and were working together.
During camp, girls could earn ‘spirit points’ for their team, Hogwarts style. Spirit points were given out in the form of bracelets, for girls who were helpful or who participated in a special way. Dustin led a projection program where interested girls could practice their public speaking skills by standing in an open space on the ground floor and introducing themselves to the entire group who were standing on a second floor balcony. Some girls are naturally outgoing and they were the first to run down the stairs and introduce themselves. They received spirit points. This produced a snowball effect where even the most shy girls got down there and introduced themselves in as loud and confident a voice as they could muster. I brought my landlord’s daughter, Sida, to camp and she is one of the shiest girls I’ve ever met. When she went down there and introduced herself, well, the crowd went wild. Ever girl and counselor on the balcony cheered, a magnitude of encouragement I imagine she’s never experienced before in her life.
Salem practicing her vocal projection for an eager crowd
The Monkey Cheer
Joanna, John and I were the heads of the Monkey Team. Not to brag, but we were totally the most spirited team. They even developed their own cheer… “monkeys monkeys MONKEYS CLIMB TREES!”. I was one proud mother monkey.
Team work exercise- campers worked together to build a mobile bridge that could carry a marble between 2 rooms. The kids were so frusterated when time after time the marble hit the floor. That just made sucess all the more sweet.
Peer Pressure Role Plays
Funniest skits ever. And totally practical in their approach of how to handle peer pressure. The girls were surprisingly persuasive with imposing their peer pressure tactics and surprisingly forceful with their rejections of such tactics. “But beer has lots of vitamins!”
Unapologetic Bragging about our Counselors and Programming
Camp was awesome b/c of the counselors.
- Scott’s Field Day games and tree planting (which more than a couple kids said was their favorite part of camp).
- Paul’s Ethiopian dance moves and tireless work to attend to every camper’s medical needs.
- Meskerem’s all around help translating and problem solving and just being loving and wonderful.
- Joanna’s big hit- journal writing where camper reflected on the lessons of the day and wrote special notes to each other.
- Kim’s RUMPs demonstration (reusable menstral pads) and home-run after home-run of super fun craft activities.
- Rho’s talk on STDs (which was novel information to many of the girls) and her non-stop behind the scenes magic.
- Dustin and John’s camp-saving logistical feat of retrieving water from over 10 miles away when the running water shut off half-way through camp.
- Princess’s cool, patient handling of camp funds and the strong example she set for the kids- for a lot of reasons she was a favorite of the girls.
- Celeste, Scott and John’s incredible feat of pulling together an amazing ‘environment day’ that went smoothly despite the very limited prep time they had.
- Katie was an all around fantastic counselor who’s sure fire knowledge and expert teaching on HIV and putting condoms on bananas was a novel experience for most campers.
- The Ethiopian junior counselors Howi, Boruntu and Selam provided bursts of energy that kept the kids motivated and interested as well as provided an essential service- translating.
- Mahi and Mahlet were perfect examples of strong Ethiopia women for the girls and they did more hard work than I could ever list here.
- Of course I was a total baller Camp Director, but I ain’t about to toot my own horn (too much).
Can’t say enough how proud I am of our team for overcoming so many obstacles and having such limited resources yet still providing the kids with a camp of the highest quality.
Craft Time with Kim!
The last day. I had lost 2 sets of keys and we had our closing bonfire ceremony in 30 minutes. My friend Paul and I are always sharing this little piece of wisdom with each other, “sometimes we get buy in Ethiopia on dumb luck alone”. At the last minute I found the keys and went with Kim and Dustin over to the private resort where the bonfire was to be held. It had been rainy all day, but due to sheer dumb luck, the skies were clear for our bonfire. After all the logistical chaos we’ve experienced, I was expecting nothing and was SO surprised to see a fire pit and a circle of chairs arranged for us in a lovely tree fort. We all gathered around the camp fire that last night, roasting s’mores, surrounded by friends new and old. The counselors sang “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and I was overwhelmed with pride as I gave each camper a certificate of completion. In the fire light, each girl hugged herself and said “I am a strong woman. I can do anything”. In their eyes there was hope and joy and the fiery dreams of the future leaders of Ethiopia.
Counselors Singing ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ for the campers. And yeah, we totally rocked it.
So that was camp in a nutshell, messy and beautiful and 100% worth it. Who can say how this one week will impact these girls’ futures, but I can safely say that none of them or us will forget it anytime soon. The lessons learned, the ending team chants and the tearful goodbyes were all a part of newfound but strong feeling of sisterhood between us all. A united front of the future leaders of Ethiopia. Girls Leading Our World!
Howi planting a tree as part of our environment day. We learned all about how to start a garden, transplant seedlings and prevent soil eroision with Scott.